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Webb sees rings and moons that Hubble cannot see

Webb sees rings and moons that Hubble cannot see
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  • NASA has released new snapshots of Jupiter James Webb Space Telescope in August.
  • That Hubble Space Telescope also took pictures of Jupiter, but Webb reveals details Hubble couldn’t see.
  • Astronomers say Webb’s images give a more complete view of Jupiter’s auroras, rings and moons.

While Hubble Space Telescope has been taking beautiful photos of Jupiter for decades, new Jupiter images Taken by the James Webb Space Telescope in August, invites comparison. Studied side-by-side, Webb’s images reveal startling new details of the gas giant that Hubble failed to see.

“JWST isn’t giving us anything clearer here than Hubble, but it’s giving us something different,” James O’Donoghue, a planetary scientist with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, told Insider. “I think JWST gives us an extra feeling.”

Often described as the successor to HubbleWebb started on December 25, 2021, after more than two decades of development. Since that time, the $10 billion telescope has moved more than 1 million miles from Earth and is now stationed in a gravitationally stable orbit, collecting infrared light and peering at objects whose light was emitted more than 13.5 billion years ago that Hubble cannot see. This is because that light has been shifted into the infrared wavelengths, which Webb was specifically designed to detect.

The result: Compared to Hubble, Webb offers sharper, clearer images and new details of Jupiter’s auroras, storm systems, rings and tiny moons.

Hubble image of Jupiter (left) JWST image of Jupiter (right)

The Hubble Space Telescope image of Jupiter in ultraviolet light is shown at left. The James Webb Space Telescope image of Jupiter is shown at right.

Hubble, NASA, ESA, Jupiter ERS team; Image editing by Judy Schmidt


Webb took the new Jupiter images with his near infrared camera (NIRCam), which converts infrared light into colors that the human eye can see. Webb’s upper right image of Jupiter has been artificially colored to emphasize certain features. The red tint highlights the planet’s stunning auroras, while the light reflected off the clouds appears blue. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot — a violent storm that has swirled around for centuries — is so bright from reflected sunlight that it appears white.

The Hubble Space Telescope can also see Jupiter’s auroras when it captures ultraviolet light. In the upper left image, Hubble has captured optical observations of the planet’s aurora borealis in a composite.

Still, Webb’s infrared image shows the auroras in more detail, illuminating both of the planet’s poles.

Northern lights are colorful light shows that do not only exist on earth. Jupiter therefore has the brightest auroras in the solar system OUR. Aurorae occur on both Earth and Jupiter when charged particles such as protons or electrons interact with the magnetic field — known as the magnetosphere — that surrounds a planet. Jupiter’s magnetic field is approx 20,000 times stronger than that of earth.

In his research, O’Donoghue examines Jupiter’s upper atmosphere, several thousand miles above the clouds you can see in visible images. “With JWST, we can see Jupiter’s infrared auroras in the extended upper atmosphere over the planet,” O’Donoghue said.

While Hubble can see Jupiter’s auroras when it captures ultraviolet light, Webb’s infrared image shows the auroras in more detail.

“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” O’Donoghue said, adding, “I can’t quite believe we got that shot from such a long range that it was so bright.”

Hubble image of Jupiter with its icy moon Europa.  (Left) JWST image of Jupiter with its tiny moons Amalthea and Adrastea.

The Hubble Space Telescope image of Jupiter, left, with its icy moon Europa. At right, the James Webb Space Telescope image of Jupiter with its tiny moons Amalthea and Adrastea.

NASA, ESA, Hubble, Jupiter ERS team; Image editing by Ricardo Hueso (UPV/EHU) and Judy Schmid


Webb’s new images of Jupiter show two of the planet’s moons, Amalthea and Adrastea. Adrastea, the smaller of the two, is only 12 miles across OUR. By comparison, Hubble’s image of Jupiter shows the planet’s ocean-filled moon, Europa, measuring 1,940 miles in diameter.

Astronomers believe Europa’s ocean makes it a promising place search for life within our solar system.

Hubble captured an image of its tiny moon Amalthea.

The Hubble Space Telescope captured a picture of Jupiter’s tiny moon Amalthea.

NASA, ESA and Z. Levay


Webb captured images of icy Europe that were published in July, but the new snapshot was taken at an angle where Europa cannot be observed. Instead, Webb’s new image of Jupiter shows two smaller, fainter moons, seen more clearly in the infrared. Jupiter therefore has 79 moons OUR.

“This is one of my absolute favorite images of Jupiter,” said O’Donoghue.

Hubble image of Jupiter (top) JWST image of Jupiter (bottom)

The bottom image of Jupiter, taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, shows the planet’s thin rings made of cosmic debris.

Hubble, NASA, ESA, Jupiter ERS team; Image editing by Judy Schmidt


Webb also spotted Jupiter’s thin rings, made up of dust particles formed when cosmic debris smashed into four of Jupiter’s moons — including Amalthea, also pictured in the newly released images.

“The JWST image is obviously stunning,” Luke Moore, an astronomer at Boston University, told Insider. “The infrared spatial detail is particularly impressive – due to JWST’s large primary mirror – and the contrast is incredible as you can see the incredibly faint rings as well as the much brighter planet.”

The blurry blobs in the background of Webb's images of Jupiter are galaxies.

The blurry dots in the background of the James Webb Space Telescope images of Jupiter (right) are galaxies.

Hubble, NASA, ESA, Jupiter ERS team; Image editing by Judy Schmidt


The fuzzy blobs lurking at the bottom of the frame in Webb’s image are likely galaxies that “photobomb” Webb’s image of Jupiter, according to Webb’s image. OUR. These faint galaxies are hidden in Hubble’s snapshot of Jupiter, which shows the planet – and its moon Europa – against an inky expanse.

Due to Webb’s ability to collect infrared light, invisible to the human eye, it can penetrate cosmic dust and see far into the past. One of the main goals of the new telescope is to find galaxies so distant that their light would travel almost the entire history of the universe to reach Webb. Says NASA Webb can see further than other telescopes like Hubble and take pictures of extremely faint galaxies that emitted their light in about the first billion years after the Big Bang.

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